(English translation by Marlies Bugmann)
Walter Joerg Langbein: You’ve become world-famous through Karl May’s Nsho-Chi. Have you read Karl May’s novels earlier, in your youth already?
Marie Versini: No. I’ve not read Karl May during my childhood. He had not been translated into French at that time. But my father, a great Germanist, discovered Karl May in Germany. He thought his books were wonderful, just like those written by our Jules Verne.
My father always told me Karl-May-stories at bedtime: the love story between Old Shatterhand and Nsho-Chi, the story about the blood brotherhood of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, and many more…
Walter Joerg Langbein: Has your understanding of Karl May changed through Nsho-Chi?
Marie Versini: Yes, of course. The book was translated into French by Flamarion before Winnetou I was filmed, and I’ve read it immediately. It’s always wonderful for an actor or actress to find his or her role in a novel. The author always says so much about the character of the individual people.
But, even as a child, I already had my image of Nsho-Chi. She was always present in the background.
I’ve always wanted to play that role, ever since I was seven years old. And my dream became reality! The time in Croatia during the filming with Lex Barker and Pierre Brice was also a dream. I couldn’t imagine that the film was going to be so successful! And the success continues to this day!
Walter Joerg Langbein: Did you like reading books as a child?
Marie Versini: Yes, very much. And I still do! I read a lot…with pleasure.
Walter Joerg Langbein: What book are you reading at present?
Marie Versini: I’m reading Montaigne. Montaigne’s works contain everything. One can read them again and again! I also read Montaigne by Stephan Zweig…I love him very much.
Walter Joerg Langbein: You are also writing books. Being an author, what does that mean for you?
Marie Versini: My husband, Pierre Viallet is a director and an author. He has written thirteen novels. They were translated and are available in the USA (Ballantines-Books, New York) and in Germany (Zsolnay und Rowohlt). Through him, I’ve found a new way of expressing myself. Acting and writing are very similar. But writing has one advantage. You can write when you want and where you want. You’re completely independent with writing and not tied to someone else.
Walter Joerg Langbein: What is a writer allowed or not allowed to do?
Marie Versini: A writer is allowed to do anything. He or she invents—that’s their profession. And as they dream up things, the reader is made to dream.
Walter Joerg Langbein: Will you write more books?
Marie Versini: Of course.
Walter Joerg Langbein: Many people still see you as Nsho-Chi. Does that annoy you? You’ve made other important films, after all!
Marie Versini: It has, indeed, annoyed me a few years ago. I mean, I’ve acted in many other roles…almost eight years on stage, in the ‘Comédie Française’ in Paris where I’ve played the classical part of the Naïve; works from Molière to Shakespeare. And I’ve made many other movies, for example A Tale Of Two Cities (1958), next to Dirk Bogarde, Paris Blues (1961) with Paul Newman and Louis Armstrong, Cien De Pique (1960) with Eddie Constantine, or Is Paris Burning? (1966) with Jean Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Gert Fröbe etc…
Later I realized: It was a great opportunity to be identified with a character. In the present time, with it’s short-term memory that forgets so much and so many, it is beautiful to be Nsho-Chi. But I’m not only Nsho-Chi…
Walter Joerg Langbein: What was your most important film…after the Karl May movies?
Marie Versini: The River Line (1964) with Peter van Eyck, Romantic Nights In The Taiga (1967) with Thomas Hunter and Ach Pierre (La Foire) (1977) with Curd Jürgens, my husband Pierre Viallet directed.
Walter Joerg Langbein: What does happiness mean to you?
Marie Versini: Precisely what I have! Pierre and I have been married for more than thirty years…and are still happily married…to be healthy and to be able to do what I want in a professional capacity…as an actress as well as an author…that’s happiness for me!